Van-Pool: Looking for Gas Relief

6/20/2008 Fresno Gas prices in Fresno were the highest in the nation Thursday, according to According to the website, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is at $4.61 in Fresno. Los Angeles is in a tie with Fresno, while Ventura, California is third. But help may be on the way -- Fresno County is offering more than $300, 000 for those who vanpool and a Fresno university is cutting back its work week for employees.

Several downtown Fresno workers loaded up in leased vans shortly after 5:00 Thursday afternoon for their trip back home. They share a van to and from work everyday. "Right now, my riders are paying $60 dollars a month. That's it. And there's free parking," said driver Leticia Pacheco-Lopez. Lopez has van-pooled for more than two years. She picks up drivers from a parking lot northwest Fresno, then takes them to their jobs downtown.

The cost of the vans is subsidized through funds from measure C which was approved by Fresno County voters back in 2006. Now, there's even more money available for new vanpools. "A van pool of 15, the max… over the year, that would cover more than $6,000 dollars in their start up fees, in their monthly fees, medical fees, incentives," said Melissa Garza with the Council of Fresno County Governments.

More than $300,000 dollars is available to subsidize the cost of leasing a van. There's also money for driver incentives and parking permits. The Council of Fresno County Governments will be taking over the program effective July 1st. It was previously handled by the City of Fresno.

But changes mean some vanpools will no longer be eligible for subsidies. Several of the vanpools bring workers from surrounding counties into the city. Beginning July 1st, all the rides must originate in Fresno County in order to get the subsidies. Wendy Roberts rides a van from Madera everyday. Even after the subsidies end, her group has decided to continue riding. "It hurts us. But it's still cheaper than using our own vehicles," said Roberts.

The changes come at a time when more and more drivers are searching for ways to save on fuel. Employers are taking action, too. Beginning next week faculty and staff at Fresno Pacific University will begin working 4 days a week. "We'll start seeing people spending a day at home and reducing the amount time they spend on the road," said University President Merrill Ewert.

Dave Richert commutes every day from Visalia. He anticipates saving more than $50 dollars a month. "It would actually save me about a tank full a month," said Richert.

The university says the new schedule will be in place for the next 7 weeks, a time when gas prices are normally at their highest. Some staff members are hoping the idea catches on so more people will not only save gas, but the environment as well. "If you think if all the people in that work in the city of Fresno, if they took one less day driving across town, across the city, that would be a huge saving on the environment," said Nicole Linder, a staff member at Fresno Pacific.

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